• America is a Continent AND a Country

    With the growing Atheist movement around the world, it was only a matter of time until non-American Atheists got a voice in the English-speaking community, for example this blog.

    Or guest-posts, like the one my friend Manolo Matos has over at Friendly Atheist on how the Atheist community can reach out to hispanics.

    One of the points he made was this one:

    Try not to use the term “America” to refer to the U.S. I know it’s widespread and most of the rest of the world uses the term, but most Hispanics find it offensive. We constantly see atheists from the United States using the term “America” to refer to the U.S. especially in conferences abroad, and many Hispanics consider it arrogant. America, to the rest of the people that live in the “New World,” means from up in Alaska, down to Patagonia in Chile/Argentina. Using the term America to refer to the U.S. will alienate most Hispanics and they will feel it as a rejection. Atheists are usually very specific with terminology and definitions, and being specific with this particular term can determine how welcoming Hispanic atheists will feel.

    Well, I happen to disagree on this one, and I couldn’t help but noticing it has stirred the Atheists waters a little bit. Take for example the comments at Atheist Revolution, when Vjack  said he had been trying not to use “America” or “Americans” to refer to US or its citizens:

    As long as I can remember, “America” has been used to refer only to the United States and “Americans” has been used to describe the people living in the U.S. This is how my family, friends, teachers, and acquaintances all talk. This is what I see, hear, and read from the news media and from my elected officials. This terminology is about as universally accepted and widely used as anything else I can think of. The degree to which it has been embedded in my consciousness cannot be overstated.

    It is only recently, that it has been brought to my attention that “America” and “American” should not be used in this manner. During this time, I’ve made an effort to change how I write and how I speak. And yet, I continue to catch myself resorting back to the old terms more than I’d care to admit. Unlearning something this ingrained is really tough!

    Well, despite the whole “America is a continent, not a country” meme with Facebook groups and the like, truth be told, America is a continent and a country.

    Look, I’m Colombian and I live in America, the continent. But Colombia is just the name everyone calls this country. It’s actual name is Republic of Colombia, and we were once the United States of Colombia… and hadn’t that changed, we’d still be called Colombia and Colombians.

    Because, the thing is, republics and united states are just forms of government, and ways of social and political organization countries choose to run themselves by.

    Take Mexico for example – or should I say United Mexican States, it’s official name? Mexico is a great example, because it turns out its  capital city is Mexico City. And all of them, people from Mexico and people from Mexico City are refered to as Mexicans. And they don’t go all “Mexico is country, not a city”, because, well… it is both.

    Same goes for America. And I don’t take offense when someone says it’s a country, because it is. Being United States is just the political organization by which that country chooses to divide and share power. That’s it.

    As a matter of fact, what would be wrong is to refer to America as the US.

    Category: Uncategorized


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Activist | Journalist
    • Stefano S.

      Hi! I’m european and when you say “America” I think of the continent, not the USA.

      I don’t think your point is valid for everyone, maybe only for those that live in America (continent), because over here the USA is called the САЩ (meaning USA), and not America. But when you say Mexico, everyone knows you’re talking about the country, not the capitol (which we call Mexico City, as it’s supposed to), because while Mexico is the name of the land area, United Mexican States is the name of the governmental body – huge difference.

      In fact, it is sometimes confusing to listen to US speeches as I have to constantly remind myself that they’re talking about their own country.

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        Ok, maybe I was too ethnocentric!! Thanks for sharing your point of view!

    • Peter

      What is the big deal? I’m Canadian and American has become so entrenched in our
      consciousness most, other than some rabid nationalists, give it a second thought. I know who I am, what country i live in and in what continent it is. Mind you, there are times when we use “god damn those Americans” but there are reason for that. Cool it, there are more important issues than arguing about semantics.

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        Agreed! Back to more importante issues tomorrow! Thanks 😀

    • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

      For whatever it might be worth, the intent of my post was not to tell anyone else how they should speak or write but just to explain that I was trying to do so and finding it challenging. What I’ve learned is that some people do find it troublesome when “America” is treated as if it refers only to the U.S. I understand why they would feel this way, and I’m trying to do a better job with it going forward. As you note, not everyone is bothered by this wording, and that’s fine too.

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        Ohh, yeah. I totally get the intent of your post. I just thought it was way too kind of you. We Latin Americans, sometimes, can be such crybabies. I think this is one of those cases!

        • Say it ain’t so

          lol that’s so true…

    • Randy

      Actually, it’s two continents, but who’s counting… I’m Canadian and most others I’ve met refer to the US as, well, the US. Or USA. Rarely “oosa”, Planet-of-the-Apes-style. :)

      If the USA would like a name, perhaps it should choose one. Even the United States of Mexico (or United Mexican States) may be changing their name to reduce confusion with the USA.

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        I read somewhere Mexico was thinking of changing it’s name to just Mexico.

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      The US and it’s citizens are commonly referred to as Americans. I agree that America should denote the whole continent but in English it just sounds absurd calling them Usians (or something similar).

      I have the same problem with what to call subjects (we’re not strictly speaking citizens) of the UK. Ukians sounds just as absurd as Usian yet the title British isn’t correct either as British just denotes someone living in the British Isles, not necessarily a UK subject.

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        I hadn’t thought of the UK, but that’s a good example though!

      • Say it ain’t so

        interesting point of view. i’m from peru & over there we recognize anyone that lives in america (continent) as americans. we just think it’s interesting how only u.s citizens call themselves americans & no one else. also we call u.s citizens estadounidenses in spanish roughly translated to united statians.

        • noliving

          Really the only ones? So people from the UK don’t call them Americans? People in Canada don’t call them Americans? Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, pretty much all of Asia don’t call them Americans? Are you seriously claiming that Islamic terrorist organizations don’t call the people from the USA Americans?

          • We all are americans

            If think he/she meant US citizens call only people from their country “americans” and not people from the rest of the continent. Unfortunately the world only sees, wants to see, or are forced to see only the US side of the story about the word America, when that word isn’t even an english word.

            • noliving

              So? Again you do realize that they don’t consider North and South America to be one continent, in fact a lot of countries don’t. Again there is no internationally agreed upon standard upon what a continent is or how many there are.

    • Copyleft

      It would be appreciated if those voicing objections would suggest an alternative term to use in referring to U.S. citizens.
      US-ians? Statesians? What’s the proposed replacement word?

      • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

        I have tried once or twice “united-states american”.

      • Say it ain’t so

        statians, i kind of dig that.

      • TheGhost

        Many people in the USA have come up with different demonyms to specifically mean “born in the USA”, “United Statesian” is one of those and that is accepted as a proper alternative. Also “Usanian”.

    • TheGhost

      America is a continent; not a country. “American” is continental identiy so the USA needs to understand that they did not invent the word “America” nor did it describe them first; it described and describes Americans in the south first (1507).

      This is also why I always use “United Statesian” which is one of the proper demonyms proposed and that is accepted to mean “US citizen”.

      It is the USA that needs to align with history and not try to force a whole continent into its own conception of history.

      • noliving

        But it isn’t one continent is it? I mean North and South are on separate tectonic plates. right? So how can they be one continent if they are on separate tectonic plates?

        Why should the USA adopt your standard for how to define a continent when there is no international standard for what a continent is?

        • Júlio Reis

          New Zealand is on 2 diferent tectonic plates and this not meaning that is not in 2 different continents. United States has one part in California that is another plate. This is a not a good point. Continent is a definition, no relation with tectonical plates. Before the Panama canal was built is no phisical limits to this continuos land. Then, the continent is America. Look to the Olimpic Flag, the circle are the 5 continents. I’m brazilan, here we call people that was born in United States as “estados unidenses” not “americanos”. Another example Sao Paulo is a city and a state. People that was born in State is called “paulista” and people was borned in city is “paulistano”. Are different things, if English doesn’t have difference is not a problem of definition is a problem in English as language

          • noliving

            It is how geologists define continents is whether or not they are on different tectonic plates.

            You do know that there is no universal international standard for how continents are defined right? You do know that?

            So you honestly think the Olympics is a better at defining what a continent is than geologists? You do realize that the Olympic flag doesn’t represent Antarctica as continent…They claim because it isn’t inhabited it shouldn’t be included.

            Before the Suez canal was built there were really no physical limits between Europe, Asia, and Africa. So does that mean they are all one continent? Heck there are no physical limits between Asia and Europe, how come you don’t consider them to be one continent?

            • Júlio Reis

              NO. It’s not true that geologist defines continents whether on different plates. India is in another plate than Asia. Just another example. What defines it is a convention. I know that before the Suez canal existed a link between 3 Africa and Asia. The physical limit in case of Europa and Asia is Ural montains, not a river, even a canal, but is a convention by Geologist
              About Olympics, it’s a good example because to put 5 circle people think about it. Antartida as you wrote, is habited, but doesn’t have countries there, just areas that some countries clamed. Then people that live there if athletes represents your own countries.
              Just check wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continent. You can observe that is a convention.
              About the main article here, the disscussion is about America and Americans. For me everyone that was born in America were Americans. Colombus arrived in this land and not in North America. If the country has a name that make it confuse, than its easy create another way to call them. America was named before the country. I’m Brazilan and American, this is a fact

            • noliving

              Who says that geologist don’t define India as its own continent?

              Your original argument was that there was no limits to continuous land so the Ural Mountains are continuous land between Europe and Asia. Besides the Ural Mountains don’t stretch down into Kazakhstan. The Rocky mountains go all the way down to southern tip of Chile, so we can’t claim the Ural mountains are what separate Europe and Asia because they are continuous land and they don’t stretch far enough south to actually act as border. If we used that definition than everything east of the rocky mountains is its own continent and everything west of the rocky mountains is its own continent, heck the Appalachia mountain range, the alps would all act as continent dividers. At the very least India would not be part of Asia because of the Himalayas right?

              You do realize from your own link it says that Russia teaches that Asia and Europe are one continent, even they don’t consider the Ural Mountains to act as a divider of continents and they teach that North and South America are separate continents. Are they wrong? Is Japan wrong for teaching the same thing? Is China wrong for teaching that North and South America are separate continents and

              It is a fact according to you based upon your education system, again there is no international accepted definition for what a continent is, are countries that teach that Antarctica as a continent wrong? Are countries that teach Europe and Asia are one continent wrong?

              Columbus thought he landed in India, not America. And he died thinking he landed in India.

            • Júlio Reis

              Wikipedia and all references say that. Not just me. I never heard about India is a continent. The Ural Mountais as used as reference for geologist, do not meaning that is continuous. I don’t know if you understand that. If I choose that one range of mountains divide 2 continents, doesn’t meaning that I need use the same concept to ALL mountains. It’s a convention, for many factors, not just geology or tectonical plates. The same concept is applied to Tectonical Plantes.India is in the same plate than Australia. It’s not the same continent.
              Russian are not wrong, is a convention, I told it many times.
              I’m not wrong, Russian and Chinese not wrong.
              When you tell that tectonical plates is, then you are wrong.
              If you think that tectonical plates is one of the criterias, as are range of mountains, sea, ocean. Then I can agree with you

              There a accepted definition, yes. I believe the Olimpic Comitee choose the best one. Am I wrong?
              And what are your definition to continents?

              Columbus died thinking that he landed in India… So?
              The point is that he “discovered” other place that not USA, before. Because of it, it’s not fair appropriate the name Americans to just one country
              The name is because Amerigo Vespucci that realized that is not India, I know about Columbus etc…

            • noliving

              So if Russia and China are not wrong in saying Europe and Asia are one Continent and that America is not a single continent then guess what that means: That the USA is not wrong to say that America does not refer to one continent, that they are two separate continents.

              There is no right or wrong answer on what the Olympic committee chooses. What makes you think there is one? And no the Olympic committee is not an accepted international definition, if that was the case then there wouldn’t be different models taught all over the world.

              Great you think they choose the best one, means nothing if you agree with it or disagree with it.

              So what is your point about Columbus then if you knew he died thinking he landed on India?

              In your opinion it is not fair and or appropriate that the USA claims America as meaning a nationality and not as referencing to what you believe is one continent. Seeing as we agree that other nations around the world have different continental models than the one you are taught and are different than the Olympic committee and are not wrong then what is the big deal if the USA teaches that America is not a single continent? Canada doesn’t teach that it is a single continent.

              Let me guess you are one of those people that believe the USA purposely claims that America refers to them and not as a single continent to purposely screw over the people of Central and South America, right?

            • We all are americans

              Do you think they knew about tectonic plates back in the 1500s or before? The answer is no, and if we were going to use the tectonic plates criteria to determine the exact number of continents, there would be like 20 or more continents. America is the historical name of the continent, still used by many if not most countries in the world. If it weren’t for the lack of originality of US citizens after their independence, the name would be used more frequently by english speaking countries nowadays, I know it is not the current US citizens fault, but at least they need to learn the other side of the story.

            • noliving

              Why does it matter if the answer is no? Why should the world continue to use a continent model that is no longer scientifically valid? What is wrong with saying the world has 20 or more continents?

              That is extremely debatable if the majority of the world says the USA is one continent.

              It is not the fault of past US citizens, there is no ‘fault’ anywhere. No one is preventing the other side of the story from being told. Neither side of the story is right or wrong……

            • We all are americans

              No longer scientifically valid? I must’ve missed the news the day when every and each single country on the planet signed an agreement stating that point of view, oh wait! It never happened. There is no such thing as scientific vality when talking about the number of continents because defining the exact number of continents is not a science.

              I meant that they should be taught that other countries aren’t taught as they, specially when the word they put in their country’s name is used differently in other countries, specially by their neighboor countries on the whole continent as that word was not intented to be used the way they use it.
              One thing I read was that their country’s name was originally the United States of North America, so why did they have to change that? It was way better that way.

            • noliving

              Can you show me where it is scientifically valid? The current definition is almost entirely arbitrary.
              So if there is no such thing about scientific validity when it comes to the number of continents then the statement is only incorrect semantically. So it should have been phrased that it was never considered scientifically valid. So if it isn’t scientifically valid how can the people of the USA be proven wrong and that in fact America is a continent? Plus if the current definition is not scientifically valid then what is wrong with changing the definition to one that is more likely to be considered scientifically valid?

              Lets say they are taught that way and they don’t care, mainly because they don’t see the need/don’t consider it a big deal/or just prefer the seven Continental model….What then?

              Heck why should they care? When you ask someone where they are from how many honestly will identify by continent first(This excludes Australians)?

              Were you taught that other countries consider Europe and Asia to be one continent? If so

              Love to see the source that claims the USA originally called or wanted to call themselves the United States of North America.

            • We all are amercians

              You were the one who brought the scientific vality issue in the first place by saying “no longer scientifically valid”, so I’m listening.

              For an arbitrary word, it wouldn’t be bad to say as a side note other countries use the word America to denote the whole lands of the western hemisphere, specially due to the origin of that word.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_of_North_America, given that you probably are in the US, you can go to your governmental library and do further research.

            • noliving

              OK – Why should the world continue to use a method that is arbitrary and not scientific for defining continents?

              The Wikipedia link doesn’t have a linked source indicating that the USA government was once considering using the term United States of North America. But from reading the edit history if it did exist then it most likely referred to a time when the Canadian provinces were also invited to participate in talks of independence before actually declaring Independence.

              Again lets say they do already make a note that other countries say America refers to a continent and not a country and they don’t care……mainly because they don’t see the need/don’t consider it a big deal/or just prefer the seven Continental model….What then?

              Should all nations that teach North and South America are separate continents have a little footnote saying Central and South America considers America to mean continent and not demonym for a country?

              Does Central and South American countries teach that other nations consider Europe and Asia to be one continent?

    • We all are americans

      As far as I know, the word America was used for the first time to denote the land where Christopher Columbus set foot when he discovered the New World, and it was in what is now Colombia, so by that only people in South America (sub-continent) should be called Americans, don’t you think so? But the term America later spread among english speaking colonies and was used to denote also what is now North America (sub-continent) and Central America (sub-continent) as well. While the spanish empire colonies already had names of their own to refer to, like Mexico or Peru, which have native origin, some of times times due to missunderstandings between spaniards and native inhabitants, ie. the term Peru evolved from the word Biru, which was the name of a native lord who occupied certain land the Spaniards wanted to reach; the english empire colonies may not have had a name or names of their own to be refered as, they may have started using the world that was already there, the word that was in use as the name of the continent, the word America. When the english refer to their colonies in the New World, they said our colonies in America since they didn’t have or did have but didn’t use another word who they can used when they wanted to talk about their colonies. Because of that, immigrants, not only from England but for other european countries, used the word America when they were asked where were they going to travel since they were going to go to the most popular destination at the time, and because that destination didn’t have a name of its own, or english speaking people and other immigrants just didn’t want to used another term, when they reached their independence, they used the world they already got used to and they didn’t care that it was (is, and will always be, like or not) the name of the continent, in their country’s name.

      However the US still used or may have used the word America to refer to both sub-continents the one in the northern side and the one in the southern side until the end of world war II, when they changed all of their books geography maps and came up with the term “the Americas”, so they can have the word America just for themselves, and what is worse is that some other countries accepted that without objections.

      I don’t have anything against the U.S., but I don’t like the fact that they always use the word America to talk about their country since its obvious that they took possession of a word that was already in use to express continental identity, it may have been due to the lack of native terms or not, but it was wrong from the beginning since they could just choose a word like Appalachia or another native word years later. It is unlikely they will change the name of their country ever, but at least it will be nice if they stop using the word America to refer to their country, and use the term US americans instead of just americans which is valid but not accurate, since they are americans but only because they were born in the New World for nationality, since united statians that sound that good in english, or maybe umerican.

      • noliving

        Well initially the land was called India because they thought they had found India.

        • We all are americans

          You are right, they thought that land was India, but after that they realized it wasn’t India but a new land, which would later be known by the word America.